This handsome chap is Colin Dolby. He put out in his fishing boat five years ago from Leigh-on-Sea England, and was never seen again. Because his wife Jane couldn’t prove he was dead, she could neither claim a widow’s pension nor access his bank account. According to the BBC World Service, Jane and their two children, aged seven and three, had to rely on charity, friends, and the Fishermen’s Mission to pay their rent and buy food.
Eight months after Colin’s boat disappeared, Jane booked herself and the kids a July day out on a steamship that leaves from Leigh-on-Sea, at the sea’s junction with the Thames, and runs up and down the great river. And this first time Jane returned to the water, Colin washed ashore.
Jane had once loved to sing, but after Colin died, she found singing too emotional; she would dissolve in tears each time she sang. So she stopped. For four years. Until she got an idea: she’d round up a couple fishermen’s wives, make a cheap CD, sell it in the local pubs, and donate the resulting hundred pounds or so to the Mission that helped her so much. WELL.
She posted a note to a few Facebook friends, it went viral, and within 48 hours she had her choir. All the women in the choir are either related to, are themselves, or have lost fishers. It turns out there’s too large a pool of potential choir members as fishing is known as one of the most dangerous jobs in the world during peacetime: one in twenty fishers will die or be seriously injured doing their jobs. Hear the Fishwives Choir.
I have been mulling this story over the week or so since I heard it, puzzling what made it so meaningful. I certainly love the outcome, the uplifting tale of one heartbroken woman picking herself up after tragedy and her dedication to paying back what was so generously given. And I love the song–the lilting tune, Jane’s beautiful voice, the two songs’ interwoven net, the choir’s full voice, and the coming together of like-minded women in a community of spirit. But what I really think moved me was the aspect of this story that fits into a recurring theme of this blog: the power of art. Jane was totally overwhelmed and surprised when what she offered came back to her with such force. She chose to express all that had happened–the tidal wave of grief and loss, financial ruin, fear for herself and her children, terror for the future, four years of pain—in art, singing, a form she thought she would never be able to use again. And the result, almost too beautiful to bear, now bears her into the future.
Listen to the Story on BBC World Service
Buy the Single on iTunes (it will cost you a whopping $2, and the money goes to the Fishermen’s Mission)